At dusk, they burned the Easterlings and gathered all the food or drink they desired. Boromir found the work difficult since his raw hands could not close or open completely, and he could not straighten his legs for the injured knees. But soon enough, the work was complete, and the five travelers went forth into the night to find a suitable hiding place.
They found a tussock in the plains to the northeast, with rocks and shrubs to lean against. There, a fire was lit and they made camp. Second One helped bind Boromir's hands and knees, while Radagast spoke with some birds in the nearby bushes. They ate the Easterlings food, Boromir least of all, and refilled their water-skins. Third One found a wineskin amongst his booty and they passed this around to drink. Boromir consumed the most and the elves the least, with Radagast being the only who consumed equal amounts of food and wine. Eventually, when their bellies were full and their heads swimming, they settled back against their bedrolls in companionable silence.
The wine numbed the burning in Boromir's raw hands and the stinging in his knees and gut, for which he was thankful. He lay with his head against the bedroll, his eyelids drooping, a soft alcoholic buzz caressing and comforting him. In the night, with the fire crackling nearby, and his companions' even breathing by his side, he felt a sudden peace. As if all the shame and dishonor his heart carried had melted away with the wine – or, rather, was it flung off during the fight? – and he was left now with only an empty head and weary limbs. He did not desire to move a single muscle, but rather wanted only to lie there, staring half-asleep in the fire, with his bandaged hands folded across his stomach.
Someone lit a pipe. The smell wafted to Boromir, shaking him out of his drowsiness and awakening pangs of old memories. He lifted his eyes and saw Radagast sitting against the rock wall, legs crossed, gaze distant. He was smoking a long, thin pipe.
"That scent is familiar to me," Boromir said, half-mumbling, half-slurring from weariness and intoxication.
"Oh?" Radagast lifted an eyebrow. "It is South Farthing pipe-weed, from a little realm to the northwest called the Shire."
"Aye, I know it."
"You have friends there?"
"I traveled with some halflings from that land. A fine, happy people. Much as tonight, we would make camp and the little ones would smoke their pipes. Aye, it was the weed of South Farthing they used… They were my friends," in the same breath, Boromir added, "but they are dead now. It is foolish to speak of them."
“Nay, Boromir, it is never foolish to speak of those we have lost.”
Radagast took another drag of his pipe. Silence again.
Boromir burrowed himself into his makeshift pillow. He did not want to think of Merry and Pippin. He would not think of them. Why did they haunt him so? Why could he not simply forget them, push them back to the dark recesses of his mind, as he did with all the dead he knew? The crowded cemetery in his mind, already full with the bodies of family, friends, brothers-in-arms, officers, foot soldiers, innocents.
He could not forget Merry and Pippin. Whenever he closed his eyes, he saw their faces – now clear, now blurry, weeping and laughing and eating and talking and weeping again, crying out to him in the darkness. Or he saw his brother’s face, heard Faramir’s clear voice chiding him and calling for him to return to Minas Tirith, to return home. Boromir’s memories crept like vines around his legs and into his torso, twisting around his heart and squeezing it shut, so that he longed only for release from this existence. Merry, Pippin, Faramir, Denethor – all asking for him, calling his name, grieving for him. Could they not simply forget him? Could they not allow him a peaceful exile?
The quiet was abruptly broken by a fair voice. It rose from the depths of Third One's throat and fell over the camp in a wave of melody, before rising up with the smoke and disappearing into the night sky.
The song was elvish, and Boromir did not know the words, nor the meaning, but the music enveloped him like a blanket. He recalled the lament for Gandalf heard in Lothlórien, how the voices had emerged from the trees themselves, echoing through the wood, at once ominous and beautiful. He had been so consumed by grief and despair in those days, that he had scarce paid attention to the music of the elves. All music was drowned out by the endless drone of the Ring's whispers.
But now the Ring was gone, too far away to be heard, and only its dark shadow still stained his heart. He could listen freely to Third One's song, melancholy and sinister and peaceful. A shudder passed through his body, and he felt the hair on his arms rise. It was unlike any mortal singing.
Third One finished and the song disappeared into the night sky, carried away by the wind.
"Were you not forbidden from uttering the elvish tongues?" Radagast asked after a pause, his eyes scanning each elf's face.
Third One looked away, abashed. "Forgive me. The desire was too great."
"Radagast, have we not earned back some honor today by fighting the forces of Mordor?" First One asked, looking pointedly at the wizard.
"Aye," Second One agreed. "Piece by piece, mayhap we can reverse our punishments?"
Radagast shrugged and did not speak. Without lifting his gaze from the fire, Boromir asked:
"What did you sing of, Third One?"
"A lament for our fallen enemy."
"They were Men, like you, Boromir. Perhaps not all deserved to die. I cannot say. And so I sing for those who were perhaps better than the rest."
Boromir did not stir. Had it been any other moment, he would have exploded with anger, accusing the elf of being blind and treacherous for even suggesting such a thing. The Wild Men deserved no pity, no mercy.
But Boromir did not say these things. He did not desire to quarrel. The wineskin, which rested against his hip, was near empty. He took it, finished the remaining dregs – a strong, heady drink of low quality – and waited for his body to sink further into its numb depths.
Second One roused him with a question.
"What now, then, from our master strategist?"
"Let us rise before dawn and make for the eastern passes. I wish to fight a greater enemy. Today there were less than a hundred Wild Men. That is no challenge. Let us find a bigger group."
"With more wine?" Second One teased.
Boromir grunted a laugh. "Aye, with more wine. And mayhap an orc or two."
"Very well, but you must promise something, Boromir," First One said, grinning. "You must promise not to fall into any wells again, for you are the heaviest among us and it was truly taxing, even for three strong elves, to pull you out."
"Nay, I did not fall in. ‘Twas your shot that pushed me."
"Pushed you? That poor Easterling would have fallen to his side, had you not leapt back and dragged him into the well with you."
"Soldiers of Gondor never leap back from their enemies. Only forwards."
"That is not a wise strategy," Second One chuckled. "Perhaps we erred in making him tactician."
Boromir raised his eyebrow in mock offense.
"I have planned many a battle in my career."
"As is expected from the son of Denethor," Radagast mused to himself.
The elves continued in their joking.
"Aye, planned them, but how many victories?"
Boromir's smile faded, and with it, the light from his pale eyes. "In truth, too few. Of late, Gondor has become more accustomed to defeat than victory."
The amusement dissolved and the group fell into a somber silence. A gentle breeze passed, leaving a chill. The fire crackled. The night insects buzzed. The owl – Radagast’s friend – hooted. Beyond the edge of the boulder, the night sky could be seen and a million stars glowed in silent observation. Boromir watched them. The stars. Each with a story and a song. He could hear Faramir’s voice, pointing out the brighter ones, explaining who they represented or where they came from. But he did not want to think of Faramir.
"Once we have finished with the Easterlings," Boromir said. "I wish to continue eastward, beyond the borders of the Known Lands. You three have passed into those strange places, as you often speak of them, and I would like now to know what lies there."
The elves looked at each other, deciding who should speak first, until First One replied: "Very well. We shall tell you of the paths beyond Rhûn, for it is good that you have fair warning. It is a difficult journey, long and hard. The stars which you depend on for guidance shift and change positions upon reaching the Sea of Rhûn. And they will be of little help once past it.
"The Wild Men you know of, these Easterlings, mostly inhabit the forests and mountains just beyond Rhûn. It is a half-year’s journey through these villainous lands, and I would counsel wariness, for the Wild Men, as you know, are a belligerent people, ready to rob you and beat you if they see you are alone. Do not travel along the roads, but rather remain in cover of wood. Take heed of night-sounds.
"If you continue eastward, you will notice the villages and homes becoming more sparse, and the earth growing bare and brown. After a half-year of Wild Men and dangerous roads, all life will fall away upon reaching the Great Desert. The Desert is called by many names, though in the tongue of those closest to it, it is called Ceosolstów. You will see but endless sand, rising high and low in dunes. Here, the sun burns hot and close. Ne'er a cloud passes, ne'er does it rain. None live in the desert, for no creature survives the infernal heat and lack of water. You will walk under this unnatural sun, stumbling and thirsty, for what will seem like a lifetime.
"If the Valar bless you and you survive Ceosolstów, which is unlikely, you will be rewarded with the lands of Rinanholt. Here trees as tall as the White Tower of Gondor grow, and there are beasts of such might and beauty that you would tremble to look upon them. All is green and large, and the rains would drown the valleys of our western lands. Here, the Rinan trees grow so large, that a Man may never see the tops of them. They are as wide as five or six of your trees, with leaves the size of a full-grown dwarf. The land is oft flooded, and therefore you must travel by the branches."
"By the branches?” Boromir snorted. “I am no squirrel. I know not how to travel by limbs and leaves."
"You will learn, out of necessity. And fear not, for the Rinan trees grow so thick, that even their flimsiest limbs could sustain a heavy Man like yourself."
Some laughter. Boromir smiled.
"Nay, the rains are heavy there, and the forest floor is at times but a lake, where fish and sea-snakes mingle with the roots of trees and pick off the low nests of foolish birds. You will needs make camp in the top branches, or in the holes of the trunk, where it is damp, and the rain does not batter down through the leaves. There is fruit to live on, and your squirrel colleagues, if you are lucky, but they are crafty creatures. Continue eastward, if you wish, or, by this time, you may also move north or southward.
"Once out of Rinanholt, you will see the first of your kind. They are a foreign race of Men, and they will look strange to your eyes. Some dark as night's deepest black, while others with eyes of orange and red and yellow. Yet, fear them not, for the Strange Men share your ancestors, and mayhap even your shame. The lands east of Ceosolstów and further east of Rinanholt are lands of exile, where Men from Gondor, Arnor, Harad, Angmar, all the realms, fled from past shames. These are the sons and daughters of cowards, criminals, or simply fools who lost themselves and traveled too far. But do not judge them in haste, for they have become a strong people, kind and just. They will help you, and lead you perhaps further east, if you so desire. But you risk walking off the very face of Arda, if you stray so far.
“And know also this: once going East, you may never return, for by some chance of magic, the desert stretches further for those who travel west, swallowing up even the doughtiest of Men."
"Yet you three claim to have traveled so far?" Boromir asked.
"I remind you that we are not Men," First One smiled. "An elf can brave an endless desert. He needs little to drink and less to eat."
Boromir grunted, feeling too weary to form a complete reply.
The group of four then fell again into silence. It was decided that Third One should take the first watch, while the others slept. They stifled the fire, lessening it to a slow burn, and each person wandered into his own thoughts.
Boromir did not shift in his position. His hands were curved into a bandaged curl, and he found that moving them was painful. His knees throbbed dully. He sighed inwardly, thinking of tomorrow morning's stiffness, and drifted away into darkness.
…It is said the wine of the Wild Men breeds strange dreams. Dreams of prophecy and symbol, dreams where the lost and forgotten speak from afar, and time blurs.
Hear the halflings,
They cry, they cry, crying out, wails in the night.
Black red burning Eye on fire
searing holes into a Man’s heart
Man's tissue-thin spirit.
Losing - falling – collapsing onto burning knees,
gummy with blood,
arrows forcing him down, to the ground,
pushing his face against the mud,
breathe in the mud, breathe in the blood on the ground.
Limp arms pushing up, shaking for air,
(with the desire only to gasp open)
wind whistles foul,
more arrows like long thin jagged poison black nails
pinning him to the tree, to the ground, to the river.
“Where to, brother? Where does thy tread take thee?”
“Away from shame, brother, away from evil
away from the Eye, from Mordor, from the Fellowship,
brother, away from the RING.
To the East, to the desert, to the trees,
up, up, into the trees with leaves as big as Gimli.”
(Gimli grunts: “Mayhap a dwarf can outlast a Man!”)
Choking in the desert, a sea of sand,
drifting through the still air is a clear voice:
“What are these blows, brother? Where is thy horn?
Speak, I see thee in my dreams.
Dead, brother, dead?”
“Nay, Faramir, living still,
but it is a half-life to end too late,
brother, do not wait for me,
wait only for peace, and when all this is done,
return to the White City with the White Tree and White Tower
and, there, beneath the White Clouds
crown our King Aragorn King.
I to the desert, brother, I to the trees,
I to Men of yellow eyes and black faces,
I to exile.”
“Silence, brother, let the foresight of mine,
the legendary foresight of Faramir,
show you something:”
Boromir groaned, stirred. He shifted his position, fell again asleep. The elf who stood watch in that moment smiled, and wondered if the Man ever slept peacefully.
“See this, exile-brother,
heed this, if you are wise:
you see fire,
you see stone,
in the Black Tower of Barad-dûr you will dwell.
Frodo shall pass beneath you,
bearing the Ring to Doom,
and good life for all will spit from a volcano,
but not for the three elf-wanderers.
Two First Born shall pass into the remote lands of death,
one’s pass you will see, the second’s you will hear
again and again, forever
both you will mourn ‘til you yourself die – ”
“What chills! What burns!
Do not foresee this!”
“ - Easy, brother, let me finish:
For we all have destinies, brother, all of us, everyone
our stories written long before our birth
and we must but choose it, choose to fulfill fate
now or later, but it will be done inevitably
as originally planned
(keep this in mind with your adraefan)
it is all there, our short lives
with their loves, their wars, their quotidian joy
little vignettes or Grand Epics
all mapped out by Eru the Inconceivable
and set forth, accomplished with some helpful Valar device
impossible to avoid, ecstasy to realize.
And I see now your fate, brother, let me continue:
…months of sorrow with Barad-dûr e’er echoing,
and you drown out the fear in liquid haze,
in goblets and tankards and sacks and bottles
with mind blurred, honor forgotten, friends falling away.
But not all is black,
the road curves with a new twist,
not all Boromir has faded, some yet returns,
and I Steward, Aragorn King, Minas Tirith restored,
what we have dreamed of,
Minas Tirith restored,
brother, there is a happy end
to all this, a final joy:
Minas Tirith restored,
the flowers in bloom,
a final joy.
Awake, now, brother, the light in the East rises,
over your desert and Gimli-trees,
it comes now to you,
Boromir awoke with a snort. He squinted in the sun’s glare, which rose in the east and sent sprawling rays of light into their campsite. By the edge of the camp, near the largest boulder, Boromir saw the silhouette of a seated elf. The silhouette turned.
“How punctual, the sun has risen in this very instant. Did you sleep well?”
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.